ANALYSIS: How long can Spain avoid another full lockdown?

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Graham Keeley - [email protected]
ANALYSIS: How long can Spain avoid another full lockdown?
Photo: AFP

As coronavirus cases continue to rise in the wake of the Christmas holidays, Graham Keeley asks how long can Spain avoid the inevitable.


Pedro Sanchéz took time out from his prime ministerial duties this week to retweet a warning to mind how you drive as Storm Filolmena held the country in its icy grip.

As children – and, hands up, some adults  – marvel at the pictures of snow falling over the country, it is tempting to wish it had not come over Christmas.

True, a blizzard might have forced us to endure endless replays of White Christmas on the radio but the price would have been worth it if it prevented family gatherings for which it seems we are now paying the price.

The total number of coronavirus infections passed the two million mark on Thursday after the expected surge following the Christmas holidays.


The milestone came as the government announced another 42,360 new cases over the past 48 hours, bringing the cumulative figure to 2,024,904.

However, seroprevalence studies, which test people using a blood serum sample, suggest that the real figure is much higher.

Over the same 48-hour period, Spain also saw another 245 deaths, raising the overall toll to 51,675.

Crucially, the incidence rate also shot up, rising from 296 cases per 100,000 people to 321, according to the latest figures.

It means Spain, like much of the rest of Europe, is in the middle of the third wave of COVID-19.

"The total number of confirmed cases... already exceeds two million today," said Maria Jose Sierra, deputy head of the health ministry's emergencies unit.

"Clearly, we are seeing a new increase in cases, they have decreased and now they are increasing again in what we could call the third wave."

So, as the latest raft of restrictions came into action the day after Los Reyes Magos or Epiphany around the country, the real question appears to be how long can Spain avoid another full lockdown?

Salvador Illa, the health minister who is soon to leave his post to stand as a Socialist candidate in the Catalan elections, has so far ruled out this measure. 

Illa said on Friday: “The number of cases, the pressure on hospitals, the number of positive PCR tests is rising. The pandemic is worsening.”

He appealed to people to avoid contact and to abide by local restrictions on movement.

School closures, which have happened in Britain and elsewhere, are not being considered yet. The government says that according to their research COVID-19 cases in schools have been isolated and sufficient measures have been taken to prevent larger outbreaks.   

Spain, of course, has been caught on the horns of a dilemma like countries everywhere.

If they bring in a second lockdown and close schools it will damage the economy just when it is hoped that the economy might begin to recover.

Nadia Calviño, the economy minister, said there were signs that GDP had risen in the last quarter of 2020.

The government appears to be pinning its hopes on rolling out the vaccination programme so it can beat the surge in new infections. Illa has repeatedly said that he believes health services can reach 70 percent of the population by the end of the summer.

But it has not started well.


Madrid and Catalonia were harshly criticised for giving jabs to a small number of people despite receiving the largest amount of doses.

By last Saturday, Madrid had been given 48,000 doses but had only vaccinated 3,000 people.

In Catalonia, where 60,000 doses were sent each week, only 8,293 people had had the jab.

The failings prompted protests from doctors and health experts and even an editorial in El País, the left-wing daily.

However, it was not the entire picture. Asturias had used 100 percent of the doses which it had received.

What a difference a week can make in politics.

On Monday, only 82,000 people had been vaccinated, a figure which sparked a huge row in a country with a population of 47 million.

Do the maths. At that rate, how long is going to take to get everyone vaccinated?

Step forward to Friday.

Dr Sierra said that now about 200,000 have received the Pfizer vaccine out of the 743,000 doses which have been delivered.

Even at this rate, Spain needs to speed up its vaccination rate to meet the government's target of giving the jab to more than two thirds of the population by September.

It seems that, despite all our hopes, 2021 may prove to be just as challenging as last year.



Graham Keeley is a Spain-based freelance journalist who covered the country for The Times from 2008 to 2019. Follow him on Twitter @grahamkeeley .






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